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Older Workers Finding Many Benefits To Staying On The Job

Oregon’s unemployment figures came out Tuesday and the economy appears to have started creating new jobs, though the rate remained essentially unchanged at 10.4 percent.

That may be good news for aging baby boomers who find they have to go back to work. By some estimates, 10,000 people in the U.S. are turning 65 every day. 

A study by The Families and Work Institute and Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging and Work found that many older people haven’t saved enough money to retire. But, it also found that holding a job later in life can be fulfilling.

Janet Page puts in a full 40-hour week at Bob’s Red Mill in Milwaukie. She’s 75  and works in the quality assurance lab.

Janet Page: “It’s just a chemical test on our gluten-free products to make sure they are truly gluten free before they go out of our door.”

She took the job after her husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She knew Social Security wasn’t going to be enough. So, she’s here for the money. But she says, it’s enjoyable.

Janet Page: “When you get my age you kind of get swallowed up in the family. And it gives me an identity and an importance, something that I’m doing that I feel is important. I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t working. I’m not ready for a rocking chair yet.”

One of her bosses is Dennis Gilliam.  He’s 69. He says his father died at 68 and his mother died at 71. So he did think about retiring at 65. But he says, he realized that nowadays he could well live to 90 and he wasn’t ready to give up working.

Dennis Gilliam: “It’s just a more satisfying life, more fulfilling life to me. To be at work everyday with new challenges. And I’m just fearful I would develop a two hours in front of the computer. Two hours watching nonsense television and falling asleep on the couch. That is not the lifestyle I want to forge for myself.”

So, will he ever retire?

Dennis Gilliam: “I do intend to pull back to four days a week. Probably within the year, I have the luxury in my current position of being able to take two or three hours here and there and do personal business. Or go to an extra long lunch with a friend. And that’s very meaningful for me to have that time available.”

Gilliam says some of his friends, especially those who retired early and spent a lot of money traveling, are now in a tough financial position — because of the economic crisis.

But money didn’t factor much in his decision to keep working.

Dennis Gilliam: “My wife does not want me underfoot all day. She has friends. She likes to go to coffee. She likes to have her quite reading time. A large percentage of that I would just upset.”

Of the 10,000 American’s turing 65 every day, about half haven’t saved enough to retire, says Joyce DeMonnin of AARP Oregon.

Joyce DeMonnin: “Before you quit your job, run a retirement calculator because you may find you need a little bit more money than you thought you did.”

She says employers nowadays are much more open to shorter work weeks and other ways to keep older workers. She says they value the institutional memory many of them possess.

Beaverton psychologist, Amy Schultz, who specializes in aging issues, says retirement can bring unexpected problems.

Amy Schultz: “Many people tend to kind of flounder, they don’t know what to do with themselves. It’s nice to relax for a day or two or a week or a month. But at some point people can start getting bored. They may experience more conflict with a significant other because they’re around the house more and they’re not typically as stimulated with interllectual activities.”

Schultz says you can think of your brain as a kind of muscle - it needs to be kept busy or it’ll atrophy.

President Obama might have a fix for that. His recent bipartisan commission on reducing the national debt, suggested increasing the the Social Security retirement age from 65 to 69.